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In Russia, a Seemingly Scripted Call for a 3rd Term
A representative of United Russia at its press office in Moscow described the rallies as the "people's initiative."
Putin has repeatedly stated that he will step down as president next year. The Kremlin also denies any involvement in the campaign to persuade him to stay.
"The Kremlin is preparing to meet in March a new president of the Russian Federation," Dmitry Peskov, deputy spokesman for the president, said in a telephone interview. "We really are witnessing a movement, a social movement, trying to initiate any possible arrangement to see Putin as president of this country for the next term. But this has nothing to do with us. The attitude of the president is very clear and is not flexible. He will quit."
The drive to keep Putin in power reflects the sentiments of a majority of Russians, according to opinion polls. It also provides a compelling backdrop for any change of mind on the president's part, according to analysts.
"The Kremlin has several scenarios on the table, and it is simultaneously playing all of them," said Lilia Shevtsova, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. The demonstrations are no spontaneous initiative, she said: "One frown from the Kremlin would stop this, but they are not sending that message."
The Novosibirsk group, for instance, is led by Olga Tolokonskaya, wife of the regional governor, who is heading the United Russia list in Novosibirsk. The city's For Putin chapter was formed Friday and by Saturday claimed to have prompted tens of thousands of people to appear in the central square.
The local Communist Party, however, published on its Web site telegrams from the local authorities ordering state railway workers to attend the demonstration. The party said the telegrams were part of a wider effort to compel state employees, factory workers, teachers, students and pensioners to turn out for the demonstration.
Similar reports of forced attendance have surfaced concerning rallies from the Russian Far East to the city of Tver, west of Moscow. An education official in Tver, for instance, told the Russian newspaper Kommersant that a day before a For Putin rally there, she was ordered to produce 3,000 teachers and students for the gathering.
"There is no doubt that these rallies and meetings in support of the third term are held because of orders from the regional and local administrations," Anatoly Lokot, a member of the lower house of parliament and first secretary of the Communist Party in Novosibirsk, said in a phone interview. "And they take their orders from Moscow."
[Elsewhere, Putin attended a ceremony Tuesday at a firing range near Moscow where 20,000 people were executed in the late 1930s, Bloomberg News reported. It was a rare tribute to victims of Joseph Stalin.
Putin said in comments broadcast on state television that while Russians should "keep alive the memory of tragedies of the past, we should focus on all that is best in the country."
Human rights activists said they welcomed Putin's presence at the Butovo firing range.]